These past several weeks at the Hypogaeum, our basement studio in Maryland, has seen the completion of a months long project for which I am most excited about, especially as we move into Black History Month out of the celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of my great loves has led me to begin to specialize in the refurbishing and inlaying of chess sets. Chess is a game I learned as a boy and I have many fond memories of playing the game with friends and youth who I taught the game to.
Chessboards make beautiful canvases for wood inlay and I am always on the look out during my thrift store jaunts for the incredible variety and uniqueness of chess pieces as well.
Imagine my delight then when I discovered a set of handcarved African chess pieces. Upon closer inspection I noticed that three of the white pieces were missing. Fortunately I was able to use the black pieces as patterns and so handcarved pieces to match.
Then I began to design the chess board. I took one of my Chessboard boxes from my collection, repaired the interior, and then began to design the board.
In keeping with the African theme, I chose wenge, a lovely dark wood from Africa, and interspersed it with two different species of oak from my stock.
I chose Martin Luther King day as the day to begin inlaying the board, taking the time to reflect on Dr. King’s life and be in a spirit of quiet reflection around white privilege and racism as I glued the dark and light pieces together.
I have limited stock of my grandfather’s, but felt that this board in particular should have some of his 45 degree pieces around the border.
I am grateful for those whose work went before me and for the imagination and process which allowed me to bring this idea to fruition.
It is indeed a very special chess set.